Sunday, October 28, 2007

Big Little Brother

It is traditional knowledge of North American tribes (and the recent discovery of American paleontologists) that beavers of the Pleistocene Era could weigh four hundred pounds and more.
The hundred foot high beaver dams and linking impoundments created by these giants created a North West passage virtually without carries , except around the dams, extending from the Hudson to the Yukon. Niagra Falls was underwater and the Great Lakes were just one big long flow.

A person then could make a boat of the pelt from a single four hundred pound beaver, and, according to Little-Nose Johnson, there were some native people of that era who did this. They were a nomadic northern tribe, or disassociation of tribes, which compeated in killing the great beavers to cover coracles and canoes with the skins . In these boats the early raiders traversed the North American continent for South East to North West, hunting beaver and the peoples who lived in association with them.
This was an easy living for the predatory nomads, and in that time before the
powerful Iroquois confederacy, there was no organized resistance from the people, but as the largest beavers were culled for boats, the beavers evolved to be smaller until they were only about big enough for hat making, and nomads turned their attention to the forest buffalo, which themselves would eventually be chased by the Ojibwa out of the forest onto the plains to be hunted down by Buffalo Bill on a train. As everybody knows.

While the beaver bodies gradually downsized through the generations, so did the people who lived with them. This change was the origin of the small, " yellow people": The Adirondacks or Bark Eaters who lived (not eating much bark of any sort) not only in the Adirondack Mountains, but as far south as the gorges of the Finger lakes, until they were scattered by the proto Algonquins, who themselves were driven out by the Iroquois. And the little yellow people are assumed to no longer exist. Although LiIttle-Nose Johnson. assured me otherwise.

Whatever has become of the Bark Eaters., in their Great days and even in their diminished state , the people of the beaver didn't just live in the beavers' neighborhood, but sometimes inhabited the same lodges at the same time. There was not much in the arrangement for the beavers, but a lot for the humans: free housing with heat, land clearing , fertilization, and irrigation.
The Great beaver lodges were as large on the outside, if not the inside, as a modern two -story house or a Mandan dome lodge. Typically, the beavers would move up or down the watershed when an impoundment was ten or fifteen years old and they had consumed all the aspen wood within the flooded area. The yellow people would then breach the dam, inhabit the lodges, and farm the richly silted and stoneless flood plain using tools made, without any alteration, from the four inch wide chisel-bladed gnawing teeth of the Great Beavers.
Although it endured for ages, retreating and advancing with the global glaciers, the material culture of the beaver people was so exclusively based on the beavers
that there is very little direct evidence of those people today. Even I, who had actually lived among beavers, and had even raised crops (mostly potatoes) in their meadows and on the old mounds of their lodges , had never imagined that it had once been a way of life for a whole society. But this I know now, because Little-Nose Johnson told me all about it in his truck heading for Ithaca that day back in nineteen seventy something before science had even discovered the Great Beavers themselves.


No comments: